The long road that lies ahead for the Afghans arriving in Spain

The Interior Ministry is seeking to resolve asylum requests on an ‘urgent’ basis, as the new arrivals are sent to Spain’s regions to enter the shelter system

Crisis in Afghanistan
A group of Afghans arrives at the Torrejón de Ardoz air base on Tuesday.Jesús Hellín (Europa Press)

They are arriving in Spain in a state of “extreme exhaustion,” and carrying just the few belongings that they could carry with them amid the chaos of Kabul. The Afghans being flown in recent days by the Spanish government to the Torrejón de Ardoz air base in Madrid are also worried about the families that they are leaving behind, according to the organizations that are assisting with their arrival and the Spanish defense minister, Margarita Robles.

Despite having escaped their home country, since it was taken over by the Taliban, Ahead of them awaits a challenging process, which will involve further travel and a wait that will last months until their requests for protection are resolved. These processes often take longer than the legal limits, although on Monday, Spanish Interior Minister Fernando Grande-Marlaska confirmed that the asylum requests would be dealt with as “special” and would be processed “urgently.”

Once their documents have been processed, they are then given a special residency permit for a 15-day period

Of the more than 800 people who have been airlifted to Spain from Afghanistan since Monday – by Tuesday afternoon the figure had risen to 1,100, and a further 130 were due to arrive in the early hours of today – 613 had already requested international protection, according to data supplied today by the Interior Ministry.

Figures from the OAR asylum and refugee office, which belongs to the aforementioned ministry, show that last year – during the Covid-19 pandemic – just 34 Afghans requested protection in Spain, 0.04% of the total. In 2019 that figure was 182, and in 2018 it was 101.

The same data show that the rate of acceptance for Afghan asylum seekers in Spain was 74%, a percentage that is in stark contrast to the 5% average for all requests filed.

On arrival in Torrejón, the Afghans are first given a coronavirus test. Once their documents have been processed, they are then given a special residency permit for a 15-day period. Those who request international protection are then given an appointment at the nearest police station in the region to which they will be transferred so that the request can be formalized, before being sent to the OAR.

According to normal procedures, after a month they must be informed as to whether their request has been accepted for processing. If it has, the authorities have six months to decide whether to grant them refugee status or subsidiary protection or reject the request. If their application is accepted, and more than six months have passed without a response, the applicants are allowed to work in Spain.

While the asylum process is managed by the Interior Ministry, their shelter once in Spain is organized by the Ministry of Inclusion, Social Security and Migration. According to the latest figures supplied on Monday by the minister, José Luis Escrivá, by Tuesday of this week a total of 289 Afghans who worked with the Spanish authorities and their families were due to have been transferred to state centers, which have capacity for 10,000 people. Sources from the department report that ahead of the arrival of the first aircraft from Kabul, 6,000 of these places were already occupied.

On Monday, the ministry pointed to the speed with which the refugees were being moved from the temporary accommodation that has been set up in Torrejón, bringing down the time that the evacuees are spending there to 48 hours. Up until Monday, 230 people had been distributed among nine of Spain’s regions: Aragón (29), Castilla-La Mancha (24), Castilla y León (28), Catalonia (10), Valencia (37), Madrid (32), Murcia (34), Navarre (7) and the Basque Country (9) (The total is lower than 230 given that the data of some of the refugees is yet to be processed).

The organizations working on the ground have updated lists with the arrivals at the air base and the number of people on board each aircraft. From there, forecasts are made of the spaces that will be needed within the state system and interviews begin in order to assess where each should be sent.

Those seeking international protection are being managed by organizations such as the Spanish Commission for Refugee Assistance (CEAR) and the Red Cross, among others. “The system already has high occupation levels,” explained Áliva Díez, state shelter coordinator for the CEAR. Up until Tuesday, the organization had attended to 90 people, most of them “family units of between six and nine members,” she added.

Spain speeds up evacuations from Kabul

The August 31 deadline set by the United States for pulling out its troops from Afghanistan, and the threats from the Taliban that this date must be respected, have prompted Spain to speed up the evacuation from Kabul airport of Afghans who worked with the country’s authorities in recent years and their families.

The latest flights to arrive on Spanish soil have been completely full, according to the Spanish Defense Ministry. A flight that arrived at the Torrejón de Ardoz base on Tuesday was carrying 290 people, while another that arrived in the early hours of Wednesday morning brought a a further 145.

Defense Minister Margarita Robles said on Wednesday that “without a doubt, the West has failed the Afghan people,” adding that the Spanish authorities were doing “everything humanly possible” to get the biggest number of people out of Afghanistan. She admitted, however, that “many people would be left behind.

Speaking during an interview on Spanish television network Antena 3, she explained how the situation at the entrance points to Kabul airport had gotten worse, with more violence on the part of the Taliban. Spanish soldiers, she said, were making “a superhuman effort, risking their lives” to save as many Afghans as possible in a “Titanic struggle.”

English version by Simon Hunter.

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